Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, ‌The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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Magic Mushrooms

Wednesday evening I watched a Netflix documentary titled Fantastic Fungi. The first voice in the documentary turned out to be the voice of Fungi, who returns for further narration (largely in the form of self-adulation) repeatedly over the 80 minutes of the show.

The last 15 minutes or so built to a crescendo which can only be described as religious in its fervor, leading me almost to expect an altar call. And fairly early in the program, I commented to my wife that there was a little bit "too much of the spirit of Carl Sagan" in the production — a foreshadowing, it proved.

However, there came a point when people described experimental treatment with magic-mushroom type stuff during terminal illness as the most profound religious experience of their lives. 
 At that point, my (Calvinist) wife expressed scorn. At that point, I (Orthodox, having read a lot in popular treatments of neuropsychology lately) thought I perceived an additional "data point" in my case against living life as if it was all made up of data points.

I’m influenced:

  • heavily and recently by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary.
  • Michael Polanyi’s coinage of "tacit knowledge"
  • the Saints of my Church, not one of whom was canonized for analytical rigor
  • the monastics of my Church, canonized or not
  • a lifetime of singing sacred choral music, mostly in Western Christian tradition.

There probably are other influences, too.

So I’m now going to advance a hypothesis, which has been taking vague shape in my mind over several months (or longer, as in Polanyi).

My hypothesis is that psychedelics, particularly including magic mushrooms or other fungi, subvert the dominance of the analytical left cerebral hemisphere — a dominance that has arisen in part from our adulation of science and its susceptibility of objective proof. Concurrently, our use of the right hemisphere has atrophied.

If I had to refine my hypothesis, it would be that psychedelics give a boost particularly to the more intuitive or emotional right hemisphere, with which we have become so unfamiliar as late modern or early postmodern humans, that the experience of meta-perception via the right hemisphere is overwhelming and perceived as a religious experience. Many people have never experienced such a thing at all and I hypothesize that vanishingly few of us have experienced it as intensely as occurs during a "good trip."

I find corroboration for this hypothesis in the long-lasting effects of a single trip, without a need to repeat the experience frequently because the sense of well-being persists, and in the evidence that mushrooms were almost sacramental in ancient practices we now would call “religious.”

I further hypothesize that the rebalancing of the two hemispheres is part of what can happen in a modern or early postmodern monastic life. And I confess (no longer hypothesizing) that an ascetic life is the approved Orthodox Christian manner of rebalancing the hemispheres (not referred to in those terms, though, and not the ultimate goal) and, particularly, activating that portion of the right hemisphere that our God-bearing fathers have identified as the nous — a capacity much disabled in our times.

I find a slight analogy to this in my increase appreciation of much poetry after a generous pour of whiskey.

If we do not regain a balance of the hemispheres through changes in our collective life, and if research on magic mushrooms continues (which research I support), I could imagine a day when the church would approve tripping to overcome the disability life has inflicted on us — to jump-start the ascetic life, in essence.

But my hypothesis is pretty far out there, and this is not that day. As a faithful Orthodox Christian, let alone a tonsured Reader, I’m not at liberty to take a stab at chemical or fungal shortcuts to theosis, especially when they’re marketed (for thinly-veiled marketing is what Fantastic Fungi was) as an alternative religion.


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The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

In early centuries, [the catechumenate, that process by which we initiate persons into the life of the Orthodox faith,] lasted as much as three years. Surprisingly, it consisted primarily in “moral instruction” (teachings on how to behave). Instruction in the doctrines of the faith did not take place until after Baptism! The assumption behind this was (and still should be) that catechumens needed spiritual formation before they were ready to receive doctrinal instruction. This assumption has been greatly weakened in our modern culture.

We labor under the myth of being an “information-based” society. We imagine that we are deeply informed, have ready access to massive amounts of information on the basis of which we are able to make free and well-considered decisions. This over-simplification of our human experience is deeply flawed …

Catechumens, if given only a diet of information, … fail to thrive. Above all else, it is the practice of the faith that makes faith possible.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32)

“Abiding in the word” (keeping the commandments, engaging in the practices of the faith) is the necessary pre-condition for “knowing the truth.”

This suggests to me that we set our minds to become “perpetual catechumens” in which we give our attention to the softening of our hearts rather than inundation of our minds …

The heart’s learning is the true point of salvation. Information does not save us – but there is such a thing as “saving knowledge.” We speak of this, formally, as “holy illumination.” It is the consistent teaching of the Church that holy illumination is our desired path to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

Had I read this 25 years ago, I’d have wondered what kind of squishy Kum-Bah-Yah cult taught such things as "spiritual formation before doctrinal instruction."

Not a digression: I remember a rather fringe figure in my Evangelical years, Col. R.B. Thieme, Jr., teaching sometime in the 1976-79 range that "God loves nothing better than doctrine in the frontal lobe."

I didn’t believe him — but I lived as if it were true, or as if enough doctrine in my frontal lobe would eventually cure my disordered life. It never did, and it never would have. The trajectory it put me on was that of an irascible "discernment blogger" with a hot steaming mess of a private life. Only the lack of a consumer internet spared me that fate.

When I entered the Orthodox Christian faith some 20 years later, I did so expecting to get my doctrine straightened out, having seen a couple of fundamental flaws in my prior approach — the kinds of things you can’t un-see — and having somehow gained an implicit trust in the Church.

But for some reason, early in that same transitional period of my life, I saw in re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that I needed to forsake one particular moral failing, lest it make me the kind of person who wouldn’t even like heaven had he inherited it. In that regard, Anglican Lewis — and his message to my imagination, not my intellect — was my Orthodox moral catechist.

And now, twenty-four more years down the road, Fr. Stephen makes perfect sense to me. To my surprise, "Orthodox" Christianity turned out not to be all that much about doctrine. Beyond the Nicene Creed, there are few doctrinal dogmas. We are conspicuously apophatic, a tendency that Col. Thieme presumably would have anathematized.

What it is about is — well, you’ll just have to come and see.


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Re-embedding “Chthón”

The Irish writer John Moriarty wrote a lot about chthón. His life’s search was for ways to re-embed us in what we have lost, to take us around and down again, to correct the Western Error. In his autobiography, Nostos, he writes:

“Chthón is the old Greek word for the Earth in its secret, dark, depths, and if there was any one word that could be said to distinguish ancient Greeks from modern Europeans, that word chthón, that would be it. Greeks had the word, we haven’t. Greeks had the pieties and beliefs that go with the word, we haven’t. Greeks had the wisdom that goes with the word, we haven’t. Greeks had the sense of spiritual indwelling that goes with the word, we haven’t. In the hope that they might continue in the goodwill of its dark but potentially beneficent powers, Greeks poured libations of wine, of honey, or barley-water sweetened with mint down into this realm, we don’t.”

You can forget about chthón, but chthón won’t forget about you.

Paul Kingsnorth, Finnegas


This brings to mind the unnamed young woman in the penultimate chapter of Live Not By Lies. She’s the young Hungarian riding with me on the tram, who expressed frustration that she couldn’t talk about her ordinary struggles as a wife and mother with her friends, without them trying to convince her to shed the commitments that cause her conflict and suffering. She tried to get them to understand that she loves her husband, and loves her child, and that it’s normal to have trouble from time to time. But they can only imagine living in a world without conflict, without anxiety, without suffering. This, the young Hungarian woman saw, would also be a world without true love, which requires sacrifice and risk. I told her she was fighting for her right to be unhappy, just like John the Savage in Brave New World.

This mania for utopia also drives the fanatics conquering our universities and other institutions. Imagine the kind of mentality that believes children cannot learn inside a school building named for a historical figure who was something less than a progressive saint. We cannot allow the young to recognize that the world is complex, is ironic, is tragic. Because we cannot allow them to be unhappy, we make them miserable.

So, let me ask the room: What kind of people embody the possibility of revolt against our present dystopia? It seems to me that they have to be people who are capable of bearing suffering, but who do not bear it in the manner of a dumb ox: stoically and without complaint, like slaves who have had the spark of life beaten out of them. There has to be something else. This rebel class will have to have the strength of mind and character to be willing to accept life as outsiders, without the possibility of wealth or professional success, as the cost of being free. But they also have to retain the capacity to be happy.

Are there people in North America or Europe capable of doing that today? I mean not individuals, but a class of person. I would like to think that Christians would be them, but I think most Christians will conform, as they did under Soviet totalitarianism. I think it’s going to have to be the sort of person who is not a slave to electronic world. Put another way, it’s going to have to be someone who is immune to the poison of Paul Kingsnorth’s basilisk. The Benedict Option ideal is meant to be for the creating of the families and communities that raise up those kinds of rebels.

Rod Dreher


… what we’re left with is the spectacle of an acclaimed reporter being purged not for malevolent actions, nor even malevolent intent, but rather for making a certain kind of sound … McNeil … is being judged according to a theory of wrongdoing that presents certain words or phrases as evil by their mere utterance, as with a Harry Potter spell.

Consider, for instance, American composer Mary Jane Leach, who was publicly humiliated by the organizers of the (aptly named) OBEY music convention in Halifax, because her appreciative talk on the legacy of groundbreaking black minimalist composer Julius Eastman (1940–1990) contained a reference to his albums Evil Nigger and Crazy Nigger. Eastman suffered racism all of his life and knew better than most how shocking and wounding that word could be. It was his choice as an artist to choose those album names, and he likely would be surprised to know that Leach—who has done more than anyone to keep his legacy alive as biographer and archivist over the last 30 years—would be attacked for speaking them out loud.

With a Star Science Reporter’s Purging, Mob Culture at The New York Times Enters a Strange New Phase


A new and rapidly growing journalistic “beat” has arisen over the last several years that can best be described as an unholy mix of junior high hall-monitor tattling and Stasi-like citizen surveillance. It is half adolescent and half malevolent. Its primary objectives are control, censorship, and the destruction of reputations for fun and power. Though its epicenter is the largest corporate media outlets, it is the very antithesis of journalism.

I’ve written before about one particularly toxic strain of this authoritarian “reporting.” Teams of journalists at three of the most influential corporate media outlets — CNN’s “media reporters” (Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy), NBC’s “disinformation space unit” (Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny), and the tech reporters of The New York Times (Mike Isaac, Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel) — devote the bulk of their “journalism” to searching for online spaces where they believe speech and conduct rules are being violated, flagging them, and then pleading that punitive action be taken (banning, censorship, content regulation, after-school detention). These hall-monitor reporters are a major factor explaining why tech monopolies, which (for reasons of self-interest and ideology) never wanted the responsibility to censor, now do so with abandon and seemingly arbitrary blunt force: they are shamed by the world’s loudest media companies when they do not.

Just as the NSA is obsessed with ensuring there be no place on earth where humans can communicate free of their spying eyes and ears, these journalistic hall monitors cannot abide the idea that there can be any place on the internet where people are free to speak in ways they do not approve. Like some creepy informant for a state security apparatus, they spend their days trolling the depths of chat rooms and 4Chan bulletin boards and sub-Reddit threads and private communications apps to find anyone — influential or obscure — who is saying something they believe should be forbidden, and then use the corporate megaphones they did not build and could not have built but have been handed in order to silence and destroy anyone who dissents from the orthodoxies of their corporate managers or challenges their information hegemony.

Tell us what you really think, Glenn (Greenwald, The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows)

Don’t worry: he does. This is the creepiest, likely-to-make-me-freakin’-hate-mainstream_media thing I’ve read in a long time.


These observations dismiss the popular belief that the Amish reject all new technologies. So what’s really going on here? The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism


  • Any action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is an ethical action, provided it does not harm life.
  • Any action which knowingly and needlessly advances the human industrial economy is an unethical action.

Paul Kingsnorth, via Alan Jacobs


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

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Brave New World and its enemies

COME AND TAKE MY TURKEY, Ted Cruz exclaimed in one of the most asinine tweets ever shared on a platform that specializes in asininity. Dan Crenshaw said that Thanksgiving COVID restrictions should be met with organized resistance from individuals and businesses that feel unfairly oppressed. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) echoed this call to flout the law, applauding a sheriff who is choosing not to enforce it. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) wanted to prove that he could put on his big-boy pants by himself this year, saying “I will do whatever I want on Thanksgiving.”

Well here’s the deal, Chip and Lee and Dan and Ted: We all want to do what we want this Thanksgiving. But one thing that most people have learned by the time they are adults is that they don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they want. And this year, we are in the middle of a fucking pandemic that has killed over 260,000 people and is once again starting to overwhelm hospitals around the country, so our wants and desires conflict with the broader interests of our nation. It’s a concept that grown men would understand.

There’s No War on Thanksgiving – The Bulwark


[Aaron] said that he and his wife don’t allow their children to have smartphone access, and are criticized for it by others in their community. It’s as if the adults have decided among themselves that protecting their children from the basilisk is too hard, so they’ve agreed, however subconsciously, to shame any parents who don’t surrender.

Aaron told me that he is grateful to this blog for many things. One thing he said stuck with me: that it reminds him that he is not crazy, that the things he sees really are happening, that he is a sane man in a world gone mad.

Rod Dreher, A Sane Man In A World Gone Mad


What happens when Biden reaches the White House? That’s a doctrinal, as well as political, question. The debate centers, in part, on a Catholic Catechism statement: “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”

“Grave” is a crucial term, since Catholic Canon Law states that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The current Catholic leader in Washington, D.C., is Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who on Nov. 28th will become the first African-American cardinal. He told Catholic News Service that Biden received communion during his years as vice president and, “I’m not going to veer from that.”

Gregory pledged to maintain a dialogue in which “we can discover areas where we can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree.”

Biden and the US bishops: Compromise crafted by ‘Uncle Ted’ McCarrick still in place — GetReligion

Parody

Wilton D. Gregory, the new cardinal-designate of Washington, D.C. said he would not prevent Joseph Biden, the Catholic president-presumptive who promotes abortion, from receiving Communion in the archdiocese.

“Hey, I’m a bureaucrat,” said the cardinal-designate. “It’s not as though I were a shepherd of souls or anything. If the gentleman is in peril of damnation, it’s no skin off my nose.” A twinkle in his eye, he added “We call that being pastoral.”

The cardinal-designate continued, “I don’t highlight one issue or another. It’s no different than if he supported, say, infanticide or the sexual abuse of minors.” He said that disagreements about such things as are part of “being a family, a family of faith.”

“Informed Catholics won’t be confused,” he asserted. “They’re smart. They don’t need me to tell them what the Church teaches.” When the interviewer asked about canon law, which specifies that anyone who facilitates abortion automatically incurs excommunication latae sententiae (just by the fact of doing so), the cardinal-designate replied “See? Like I said. You knew that already.”

The cardinal-designate declared, “The difficulty is that too many people want to call some Catholics unfaithful just because they discredit the faith of the Church. Like the Pope says, who am I to judge?”

“Besides,” he concluded, “non-Catholics and uninformed Catholics will respect the Church more if it doesn’t stand for anything.”

(See: In Washington, With New President, Cardinal-Designate Hopes For Dialogue)

J. Budziszewski, Parody: Cardinal-Designate Hopes for Dialogue with President-Presumptive | http://undergroundthomist.com


I just re-read Brave New World, which I consider a far more prescient dystopia than 1984.

It must have been decades since I last read it — time goes fast at my age — because I remembered so little of it. For instance, I did not remember the story of Linda and John — a big omission — or the Fordian Mass, a Neo-pagan mash-up of eucharistic worship and orgy.

In the revelatory meeting of the Savage and his fordship Mustapha Mond, I found again and again intimations of contemporary arguments I’ve read recently. Our society doesn’t look much like Huxley’s in many ways, but there are a few similarities.

“Have you read it too?” he asked. “I thought nobody knew about that book here, in England.” “Almost nobody. I’m one of the very few. It’s prohibited, you see. But as I make the laws here, I can also break them … “But why is it prohibited?” asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else. The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “Because it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here.” “Even when they’re beautiful?” “Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.” “But the new ones are so stupid and horrible. Those plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about and you feel the people kissing.” He made a grimace. “Goats and monkeys!” Only in Othello’s words could he find an adequate vehicle for his contempt and hatred.

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.” “Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” “But they don’t mean anything.” “They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.” “But they’re . . . they’re told by an idiot.”


Even more than its dramatic and mystical worship, Orthodoxy is most at odds with this world in its fasts. The fundamental orientation of our modern Western world is: more, faster. There are left-wing versions of this and right-wing versions of this, and you can find them within plenty of churches. My own biases — in both my convictions and my instincts — pull me to the right, which means that I tend to be moralistic and intellectual in my Christianity. There is nothing wrong with having strong morals and cultivating the mind, but Christianity cannot be summed up in either a moral code or a philosophy (though there is a Christian moral code, and there are Christian approaches to philosophy). But that is not the whole of the Christian life and calling …

Similarly for those Christians whose biases draw them to what we identify as the political left, it is good to stand up for the weak (as Christ did), and to bring skepticism to the way we apply traditional moral codes (as Christ did, for example, when he challenged the mob about to stone the adulteress). But if we make idols of the weak and oppressed, forgetting that they too are sinners in need of a life-transforming encounter with the Word Made Flesh, or if we forget that Christ did not negate the Law, but rather fulfilled it, then we will fall short of the harmony to which we are all called.

So much of our religious anxiety is really about having to figure out how we can avoid doing the things we know we must, while still being obedient to God. We become religious minimalists, giving God only as much as we need to do to appease him, while keeping as much as we can for ourselves. This, as opposed to desiring as God himself desires. This, as opposed to living in reality.

Reconciling With The Really Real


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Glimmers of light at the end

Of course, nobody other than the Illuminati who created this fake pandemic knows what our future holds, but a couple of people have some lovely ideas that “resonate” with me:

It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thoughtabout our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is “essential” but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.

Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.

Peggy Noonan, A Plainer People In a Plainer Time (not paywalled).

[In a sense, coronavirus] is the first invasion of America. This is the first time that a menace has crossed our borders, upended the daily lives of every American and rocked our ancient sense of safety. Welcome to life in the rest of the world.

Aside from a few protesters and a depraved president, most of us have understood we need to suspend the old individualistic American creed. In the midst of a complex epidemiological disaster, to be anti-authority is to be ignorant. In the midst of a contagion, to act as if you are self-sufficient is just selfish.

But something more profound is going on. We are undergoing a more permanent shift in national consciousness, a reconstruction of meanings, symbols, values and narratives. If the old American creed grew up in an atmosphere of assumed security and liberty, the new one is growing up in an atmosphere of vulnerability and precariousness.

David Brooks, The First Invasion of America (The New York Times)

I’m not sure whether this is Brrooks’ analysis or his prayer. It’s my prayer.

We’ve got more troubles ahead, I’m confident, and not all that far ahead as far as I can tell. Getting a little plainer and being aware of vulnerability may help us deal with that — but I’m very aware that tens of millions would like to get their piece of the American Dream first. But that will always be true until the American Dream is pretty clearly dead.

(And yes, the Illuminati crack was a joke, inspired by Atlantic’s reporting on conspiracy theories.)

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The virtue least able to stand alone

Children reveal our instinct for fairness, the root concept in the virtue of justice. Of course, as every parent knows, that instinct is often distorted, with the desire for fairness being expressed only as “fairness for me.” Justice is a virtue with deep, visceral content. Whenever it is invoked, it should be accompanied with flags of warning. Of all the virtues, it is the least able to stand alone.

The virtue of justice, when taken alone, moves towards vice. The instinct for fairness quietly blends with the sin of envy, the desire that someone should “get what’s coming to them,” ironically named, “just deserts.” When we take pleasure in another’s misfortune, it is not the virtue of justice – it is the sin of envy. It is quite rare in our world that we find justice standing alone, pure and undefiled.

When mixed with envy, justice has the nightmare problem of no limitations. It is never satisfied with fairness – it requires punishment (inevitably justified as “fairness” or “recompense” or “justice”). The desire for justice, by itself, easily becomes an instrument of great evil … The natural appetite for justice knows no limit. The quiet virtues of temperance and prudence are the necessary antidotes to such excess. They are also much less easily acquired.

… Temperance and prudence require ascetical efforts.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Justice, Temperance, Prudence and the Virtue of “No”.

Bonus from the same blog:

Conservatism is easily little more than the resistance to change. Receiving a tradition is a matter of a living relationship with what has gone before and recognizing its place in the present. Conservatism treats the past as important – tradition treats the past as still present.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Serenity in leisure

There is a certain serenity in leisure. That serenity springs precisely from our inability to understand, from a recognition of the mysterious nature of the universe; it springs from the courage of deep confidence, so that we are content to let things take their course; and there is something about it which Konrad Weiss, the poet, called “confidence in the fragmentariness of life and history.”

Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, page 47.

Boy, could I use some of that!

I’ve joked that my headstone should say “Darn! Just when I almost had it all figured out!”

But I know I’ll never figure it all out — not even close. I am confident in a sense. But something about the compulsion to figure it out tells me that my confidence is shallow.

Pieper’s book, which I shamefully am only now reading for the first time, is going onto a very short list of “books I must re-read regularly.” Another by him, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, is already on that list.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Potpourri, 12/14/18

1

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in a podcast recounted a professor at an Anglican divinity school complaining that much commentary on Pauline epistles focus disproportionately on the first halves, what God has done for us, to the neglect of the second halves, what we should now do.

2

Christian struggle against evil in this world is not, in its first instance, political or social, but ascetical.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, commenting on Psalm 57 (Septuagint numbering)

3

Women’s magazines and news outlets depict women who vote Republican as deviants. Vogue headlined a postelection commentary “Why Do White Women Keep Voting for the GOP and Against Their Own Interests?” The Guardian asked: “Half of White Women Continue to Vote Republican. What’s Wrong with Them?” The latter article asserted that “white women vote for Republicans for the same reason that white men do: because they are racist.” Barbra Streisand claimed “a lot of women vote the way their husbands vote; they don’t believe enough in their own thoughts.” Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Madeleine Albright have all expressed similar sentiments in public.

Far-left activists next month march on Washington again under the banner “the Women’s March.” The media will present them as simply “women”—as if women with other views don’t exist.

Carrie Lukas

4

Peggy Noonan reports (among other things) some polling data that prove the worthlessness of some polls (such as “Four in 10 expect Mueller will find evidence of crimes, while just over half of those polled do not think they will be impeachable offenses.”), then settles in to her real point:

Politics is part theater, part showbiz, it’s always been emotional, but we’ve gotten too emotional, both parties. It’s too much about feelings and how moved you are. The balance is off. We have been electing magic ponies in our presidential contests, and we have done this while slighting qualities like experience, hard and concrete political accomplishment, even personal maturity. Barack Obama, whatever else he was, was a magic pony. Donald Trump too. Beto O’Rourke, who is so electrifying Democrats, also appears to be a magic pony.

Messrs. Obama and Trump represented a mood. They didn’t ask for or elicit rigorous judgment, they excited voters. Mr. Trump’s election was driven by a feeling of indignation and pushback: You elites treat me like a nobody in my own country, I’m about to show you who’s boss. His supporters didn’t consider it disqualifying that he’d never held office. They saw it as proof he wasn’t in the club and could turn things around. His ignorance was taken as authenticity. In this he was like Sarah Palin, another magic pony.

But sober judgment, serious accomplishment, deep knowledge and personal maturity are most important in our political leaders, because of the complexity of the problems we face. History will be confounded that at such a crucial time, trying to come up with a plan to address such issues as artificial intelligence and robotics and the future of work and a rising China and the stresses of the nuclear world, we kept choosing magic ponies and hoping for the best.

5

“There are some people in our party here who are just plain anti-Muslim,” said Tarrant County [TX] GOP chairman Darl Easton, who appointed Dr. Shafi to his post. “There are more than I expected there to be.”

Muslim GOP Leader Targeted by Party Activists in Texas.

That leader is a Pakistani immigrant surgeon, who came here before 1990. The kerfuffle reminds me of 1960, when JFK had to promise some Texans (history rhymes) that he was, in effect, American first, Roman Catholic second.

Even if Roman Catholicism or Islam entail some political positions at odds with American political and constitutional traditions, which I do not concede, it is part of America’s dubious genius so to “assimiliate” people that such entailments drop away.

Dare I suggest that Texas should worry more about its home-grown Independent Fundamental Baptists than about 53-year-old Muslim immigrant surgeons? Those IFBs seem to think that 14-year-old girls are temptresses agains whose wiles its male pastors are powerless. Sounds un-American to me.

But in the category of “probably not fake news,” the Wall Street Journal reports that pro-Kremlin activists want to bring back monarchy, perhaps with Vladimir Putin as Czar. I say it’s probably not fake because, heck, I know some American Orthodox converts who gratuitously hanker for a Czar/Tsar in Russia again.

Maybe Orthodox Christians shouldn’t be trusted to hold office in America? (It might be a blessing.)

6

A confused mother writes to The New York Times‘s advice column:

I’m the mother of an amazing teenage daughter. Our relationship is close, but recently things have gotten complicated. She came out to us as pansexual when she was 11. I was concerned about her labeling herself at such a young age and being bullied.

Came out as pansexual at age 11. Hoo boy. I’d bet cash money that this mother is not remotely worried about bullying; she was rightly worried that her daughter was weirdly and inappropriately sexualizing herself at a young age. But she can’t say that in her culture, because we are crazy people.

Rod Dreher. I’d take that bet for a modest amount, Rod, because we may be a crazier people than you recognize. Remember the little girls’ beauty pageants, with the girls all tarted up by their moms? The sexualization is just a public school thing.

Don’t miss Reader Zapollo in Dreher’s UPDATE.

7

Every once and a while, Caitlin Johnstone comes up with something that’s not expressly political. I like this poem. I can’t help it.

8

From the Department of Denial Is Not A River In Egypt:

As for men and women with homosexual tendencies who have already made religious vows, Francis ordered them not to act upon their desires in any way: “It is better that they leave the priesthood or the consecrated life rather than live a double life.”

… [S]ome 80 percent of the victims of priestly sexual malfeasance have been male. And more than 95 percent of those boys haven’t been prepubescent children (whose predators have their own pathology) but adolescents past puberty and sexually mature in body if not in mind. In other words, the bulk of the entire unsavory enterprise concerned run-of-the-mill homosexual activity conducted under the cover of priestly reputation for holiness and a strikingly lopsided adult-teen power dynamic.

Charlotte Allen.

9

Saved for last, a news Dump-On-Trump.


Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex musters evidence that Donald Trump hasn’t even been good at promoting Trumpism, which, if true, would have to rank among the most abject of failures.


[T]his president leav[es] his constituency high and dry through political incompetence, behavioral incontinence, an inability to maintain a focus on anything, and an incapacity to think or act coherently.

Robert Merry, American Conservative. This is not an earth-shattering reversal, as the American Conservative has tended to the #NeverTrump side, but I thought it well-expressed.


I find Barr to be awful, but in a conventional way. So — Whitaker, the acting AG, I find to be awful in a norm-violating, Trump-administration type of way.

Ken White (a/k/a Popehat) in the All The Presidents Lawyers podcast of 12/10/18.


Many Never-Trumper Christians have acknowledged solid Federal Court nominees and a cooling of government hostility toward orthodox Christians (perhaps a better record on religious freedom overall, even, despite the rhetoric unmistakably targeting Muslim immigrants). Other Christians support Trump, period, full stop.

George Yancey has an instructive analogy for the supporters, in which analogy the Never-Trumpers will recognize their own concerns.

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